“Some Snapshots from BVM History” 1833-2008
The Beginnings: September 7, 1833, four young "Dublin Ladies" (Mary Frances Clarke, Margaret Mann, Eliza Kelly and Catherine Byrne) arrive in Philadelphia, Pa., with hopes of teaching the children of immigrants. Rose O'Toole joined them the following spring.

The Rule: All Saints' Day, November 1, 1833, the four make an Act of Consecration becoming Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The young foundation flourishes as the sisters work in collaboration with "protector" and "provider" Rev. T. J. Donaghoe. Final papal approval of the Rule is granted April 25, 1885. Revised Constitutions are approved February 2, 1989.

The Motherhouse: After migrating to the Midwest in 1843 the community continues to grow in number. June 1, 1845, land is purchased ten miles south of Dubuque, Iowa, ("the poorest diocese of the Union") for construction of the first motherhouse, located on St. Joseph 's Prairie. In 1846 the sisters survive their first winter on the prairie (this was also the first winter of the newly declared "State of Iowa "). On September 8, 1889, the present Mount Carmel property is purchased in Dubuque for $15,000.00. In 1991 the community observes the centennial of the Motherhouse at Mount Carmel.

The Expanding Ministry: In summer, 1855, the sisters begin opening parish schools and boarding academies in towns along the Mississippi River and along the westward railroad tracks. Eight BVMs arrive in Chicago (1867) to teach in the Holy Family School system. The first BVM school opens in California (St. Brigid's, San Francisco ) January 9, 1888. Two schools open in Kauai, Hawaii, November 10, 1945.

The Colleges: St. Mary's Female Academy, Dubuque, (1843) becomes Clarke College January 5, 1881. Mundelein College, Chicago, is built in the grip of the Great Depression (1930) at a cost of $2,000,000.00. Mundelein merges with Loyola University, Chicago, in 1991.

The Foundress Dies: December 4, 1887, Mary Frances Clarke, Foundress, dies. Father Donaghoe precedes her in death, January 5, 1869.

The Sisters' Education: From the beginning the sisters value educational opportunities for themselves and, in turn, for those touched by their educational ministries. The "learning curve" is marked by progress: June 29, 1911, six BVMs begin studying full time for advanced degrees at Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. The BVM Board of Education (1948) envisions higher education for all sisters. Newly-professed sisters enter the Scholasticate (Clarke and Mundelein ) program (1957) to obtain undergraduate degrees before beginning to teach. Currently, education grants enable BVMs to continue studies and to provide some financial support for disadvantaged women struggling to improve their education.

The Financial Shortfalls: From the legendary incident involving the loss of a purse during the passage from Dublin to New York, the community experiences financial struggles. March 7, 1935, the congregation borrows money because the sisters' salaries are not being paid. These challenges help shape the unique approach BVMs have to living the vow of poverty ~ retaining what is needed at the local level and sending the rest to the Motherhouse.

The Fires: Sacred Heart Academy, Philadelphia, is destroyed in a violent Nativist riot (1844) terrorizing two of the sisters, injuring one. In 1849, fire consumes the convent, boarding school and chapel on the Prairie. Fire destroys the infirmary wing at Mount Carmel, Dubuque, August 5, 1955. Fire at Our Lady of Angels School, Chicago (December 1, 1958) claims the lives of 90 children, and three BVMs. Three buildings at Clarke College are destroyed by fire May 17, 1984.

The Habit: A religious habit is not a part of the founding vision of the BVM community but is encouraged by church hierarchy whose thinking on the matter eventually prevails! Pope Pius XII (September 15, 1952) requests that women religious worldwide update their garb and BVMs oblige. A modified habit is introduced throughout the BVM congregation seven years later. Contemporary dress, a "return to the spirit of the founder," follows in 1967.

The Civil Rights Movement: BVM sisters open a school for black children in Memphis, Tenn., July 7, 1937. By 1951 membership in the Congregation is no longer limited to "Caucasians." Two BVMs participate in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and in other civil rights action with Martin Luther King, Jr. (1965).

The South American Ministries: Sisters are sent to South America (1961) at the request of Pope John XXIII. Soon BVMs are in Bogota, Colombia. BVMs join with the Jesuits (1967) to staff Centro del Muchacho Trabajador, Quito, Ecuador. The ministry extends to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and to Santo Tomas La Union in Guatemala.

The New Members: Novices are a vital part of community life from the time of Mary Frances Clarke. Novices congregate at the "hub" of BVM living in Philadelphia and in Dubuque. Guadalupe College, Los Gatos, Calif., provides a latter day site for the formation and education of new members (1964-67). Today the spirit of Mary Frances Clarke continues to engage women in a commitment that transcends cultures. Who could have anticipated that the vision and values of a handful of Irish women would speak through the centuries to attract followers in Ecuador and Ghana?

The Social Outreach: "Life precedes law" and after many years of advocating the works of justice and of mercy, the Tenth General Chapter formally pledges BVMs to programs in the areas of poverty, race and peace (1968). Many actions follow. The Eighth Day Center for Justice joins BVMs with other communities (1974). BVMs join the board of the National Farm Worker Ministry (1976) and demonstrate for peace at the School of the Americas, Fort Benning, Ga., beginning in 1989. The agendas of local, regional and congregational gatherings document strong contemporary expressions of BVM social outreach as BVMs minister in 23 states and three foreign countries.

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